Thursday, May 20, 2010


PAY THE LADY: The news that a federal grand jury has indicted Kaua`i Island Utilities Co-op (KIUC) for what the Honolulu Star Bulletin reports are “nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act and 10 counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act between June 2005 and December 2009” may be “stunning news” to some.

But not to the original "nitpickers" who cited the liability involving the lack of compliance with federal endangered species laws in calling for a severely reduced price when the politically- and some alleged monetarily- connected original members of the co-op board bought the company from Citizen’s Electric at an exorbitant price in the early ‘00’s.

It was one of many things- including the potential Superfund cleanup site under the `Ele`ele power plant- that caused some to say that they should have actually paid us to take it off their hands, especially considering the extremely illustrative fact that there were no other buyers at any price on the horizon at the time and Citizen’s was an extremely motivated seller.

They also cited the above-ground rebuild of the grid after Hurricane `Iniki - which Kaua`i ratepayers alone were later forced to bear the cost of- as a kind of double whammy, predicting that it would come back to bite us in the butt when we were forced by the feds to underground them.

That’s part of the reason KIUC has been battling for the last decade to try to get out from under what should never have been “our” financial burden.

KIUC’s statement tries to make it sound like they’ve done every thing in their power to comply saying, according to press reports of a “press release” that does not appear at their web site:

KIUC is deeply disappointed by the Justice Department's decision to file charges in a matter where KIUC has been working diligently for the past decade with every state and federal government agency and other stakeholders to achieve workable solutions to protect endangered Hawaiian seabirds.

Note how it says they’ve been “working diligently... to achieve a workable solution” not to comply since their “workable solution” has been doing nothing but stalling and complaining.

“We told you so” aside, the one thing that stands out here is many of the “screw the birds” comments on the various on-line press accounts from mainland settlers whose usual invader cultural supremacist “screw your host culture” spiel causes them to, on one hand scream about putting a bunch of damned Hawaiian birds ahead of the needs of their ever-expanding need for exponentially increasing consumption, yet on the other bemoan the very supremacy of the federal government that their precious statehood bestows.

The most galling part is that we’ll end up paying to bring the offending poles, power lines, structures and utility owned and operated streetlights into compliance one way or another but, according to the accounts of KIUC’s attorney’s response, only after we spend an inordinate amount of money trying to fight the charges and also defend the suit brought in March by David Henkin, a lawyer for Earthjustice. against KIUC and the St. Regis Hotel in Princeville.

That’s something we can do something about since, even though the decision to fight both the criminal and civil charges has been presented as a done deal, KIUC is a co-op where the electricity consumers supposedly have some say over decisions made by an elected board.

Board members would do well to read what Joan Conrow, who has been on top of the story for many months now, wrote today about possible penalties:

(W)e’re talking fines of up to $50,000 per bird, and KIUC already has acknowledged that its power lines kill 87 adults per year (and t)he law also provides for imprisonment of up to a year.(emphasis added).

It might pay to remind your local co-op board member of both their fiduciary and non-fiduciary responsibilities.

Even if KIUC doesn’t comply just because it’s the right thing to do it might be time to do it to cut the ratepayers’ losses and negotiate a settlement of the fines for what the Earthjustice suit says are an estimated “300 or more birds a year (that) are killed or injured by streetlights and utility wires” as part of a full comprehensive compliance agreement with the Department of Justice.

Otherwise we’ll be paying not just for the undergrounding but potentially millions in legal fees and the full amount of fines since no one is apparently claiming we have a legal leg to stand on.

1 comment:

Wil said...

I have long felt that KIUC (and Citizens before them) and the County should have a long-term plan for going underground. As a safety-after-disaster precaution, they could do busy intersections first, then one-by-one link those with stretches of line that goes underground. The $70M (or so) spent after the last two hurricanes could have gone a long way toward going underground had we been prepared for that. Even a 50-year plan would begin to get things done--and the 50 years will pass anyway, with or without progress.
Birds vs. people--hard to find a compromise, but I fear people aren't going anywhere and birds can't defend themselves adequately. Most people don't care about the birds, sad to say.
Wil W.